A Conversation with Ann Imig

Mar 14, 2022

Words cannot describe how excited we were to talk with the guest on today’s episode of The Mother Plus Podcast. It’s the incomparable Ann Imig, writer, speaker, performer, and Positive Psychology coach. She’s also the creator of Listen To Your Mother, the storytelling show that changed both of our lives. (Listen to our episode about the show here if you aren’t familiar yet!) Ann has been an inspiration and guide to so many women throughout her career, and our discussion today left us with even more wisdom and inspiration. We hope you’ll listen here--Ann has much to teach, and she is a genuinely humble and compassionate person.

Writing During Early Motherhood

Writing took on a new meaning for Ann during the early motherhood years, which I think is something many mother + writers can relate to. With little kids and a traveling husband, not to mention winters in Wisconsin, things could get intense. 

Ann started by sending emails to friends sharing her experiences at home with her kids, just as an outlet. This later became the blog Ann’s Rants. Here’s what Ann said about those early blogging years: 

“I was just writing for myself and I didn't know about the community of creative people online. And I think I even resisted it because, you know, that's when you have 15 minutes in these frenetic spurts to do something, and it's either like shower nap for 10 minutes, clean up the milk on the floor, or fire something off on the internet.”

But it was the community aspect of online writing that really impacted her-- she describes it as a “revelation,” and something that reconnected her to creativity. Blogging was a platform that gave writers (including moms!) a voice and a way to bear witness to each other’s words. 

Identity can be a tricky thing as a new mother, and Ann so articulately described something we could both relate to: “I think there was a shock to my system that as somebody who had a meandering path, career-wise, the one thing I always knew was that I wanted to be a mom, like ever since I was a little girl and I thought that was going to be the answer to everything for the rest of my life. And realizing that was only going to be a piece of my story was, um, shocking.”

The Birth of Listen To Your Mother

This outlet of blogging, connection, and community is ultimately what led Ann to create Listen to Your Mother. At the 2009 BlogHer conference (oh, the conferences were SO amazing!), Ann attended a community keynote event that eventually became the Voices of the Year Awards. Bloggers got up on stage and shared their writing with an audience--just a roomful of writers supporting a speaker at a simple podium. But it was revolutionary, and planted a seed. 

Ann describes the origin of the first LTYM show: “And so I just came up with this idea one day: I want to do something like Voices of the Year, but I want my community to get to experience what I'm getting to experience at, like at BlogHer and through blogging. And at the time, I felt like Mother's Day deserves more than a brunch. I wanted our community to come together and I wanted it to be a diverse cross-section of people.”

Doesn’t that just give you chills? The writers, the audience, and bloggers across the country were so impacted by this idea that it caught fire. Beyond being an opportunity to tell stories and listen to stories, Ann passionately advocated for diversity of storytellers, and the show opened people’s minds to a showcase of important topics: 

“There were the people in the audience who never even told the story, but got to hear people talk about mental illness and got to hear people talk about infertility and got to hear people talk about every issue: bereavement, hilarious stories where they saw themselves, and they finally felt like, such a release of like shame or just felt, just seeing like, okay, this isn't just me, you know?” 

Knowing you aren’t alone is one of the most powerful elements of participating in a LTYM show, either as a cast member or part of the audience. 61 cities to date have had shows in their communities, and it's now available for licensing through Miracle or 2 Productions.

Following Your Ease

When it was time to move on from LTYM, Ann described it like this: “I honor the seasons of life and my seasons had turned.” We talk so frequently about how important it is to follow your joy, but Ann introduced us to another completely mind-blowing idea: following your ease. It’s so tempting when we are fighting to pursue our dreams or keep our needs on the table to get completely swept up in our ambition, the hustle, and high pressure achievement. 

Ann told us: “Letting go of ambition, I can't stress enough how freeing it is.” I mean, just take that in for a moment. One of the greatest tools for finding your ease is by learning what your strengths are, and using those as a guide to ease. Ann shared a fantastic tool with us to help you tap into your strengths, and subsequently, your ease: https://www.viacharacter.org/

Ask yourself this question: “Am I living where my strengths are? That is my ease. Those other things do not bring me ease, and they're not particularly good for my wellbeing. Those are talents I have that sometimes bring me joy, but that is not where I find ease. Just having these tools and knowing your strengths and what gives you ease in life and realizing that those ambitious parts of me do not lead me to ease, they often leave me to despair.”

Remember, this is not to say that you should throw away all ambition or pursuit of something fantastic--it’s to remind you to keep it in perspective and balance, to enjoy those micro moments rather than to become hyper-focused on success. Balance that joy and drive with the pursuit of ease.

We talked about the danger of the pursuit of the “high highs” instead of savoring the smaller, ordinary moments of life, that the crux of our wellbeing is not contained in those intense joys and successes. This is a big one, guys. Let’s dive in a little deeper.

What is Positive Psychology, and How Can It Change You? 

As Ann moved forward with her aspirations, her own coach told her: “The more success you have, the meaner you are to yourself:  this isn't going to change unless you change it.” Ann’s response? “What I needed was positive psychology coaching for myself. These evidence-based neuroscientific tools to lift my own mood, and what all this research points to, is that these high-highs in life or low-lows, whether it's changing a job, getting married or divorced, having a book deal, those are these very tiny situations of life. Things that we over-focus on for our wellbeing. When in fact it is the day-to-day life; and half of our mood we inherit, but there's this large portion of your well-being pie that you can improve.”

She shared this beautiful quote from Andre De Shields at his Tony acceptance speech, and described it as positive psychology in a nutshell: 

"Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next. So keep climbing.”

Positive psychology emphasizes that the microments are what count, and that no matter how high or how low we get, we always come back to our baseline. 

Beginner’s Mind, Staying Curious, and Finding Your “Why”

We talk a lot about perfectionism and impostor syndrome on this show. During our conversation with Ann, she said something that has stuck with us in a big way: “I don't need to be an expert. I have something to share.” Write that on a post-it and hang it wherever you need to see it. That is huge, people! 

She also really emphasized embracing the era of learning as a way to let yourself off the hook: “I am trying to keep a beginner's mind frame or mindset as long as I possibly can. The keeping going, the staying curious, and the learning: I want time to learn from my mistakes and to hone my own skills and craft.This is a learning time for me. And it's really engaging my curiosity. And that's one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing. If you can find a way to genuinely be curious and excited about something, it's just like gold.”

Doesn’t that sound a hell of a lot better than pursuing unachievably high standards, pressuring yourself to hustle or be perfect, or quitting because you aren’t an expert yet? Ann discussed the hollowness of popularity and how the benchmark keeps getting moved higher, and higher, and higher. She said, “The accomplishments are not where love is. What is a miracle are the little tiny, positive connections we have with people everyday. And they can be strangers.”

When we asked her what she might say to the mother plussers trying to find their groove and do their thing, here’s what she had to say: “That's the advice I have for people who are ready to do something, but they're afraid: just remember why you're doing it and what you have to offer. Remembering why you're doing things when you get scared. We all have something to offer: keep that as your guiding light."

Mother Plusser Takeaways:

  1. The power of using your strengths to follow your ease: go to https://www.viacharacter.org/ to explore
  2. Incorporate positive psychology: it's not the high-highs and the low-lows that most impact our wellness, it's the micro-moments.
  3. Don't be held back by self-doubt: “I am not an expert, but I have something to share." 
  4. Remember the value of beginner’s mind, staying curious, and allowing for learning and mistakes.
  5. When you feel uncertain, remember your "why." Remember your purpose, and let that guide you. 

Listen to the full episode for more gems here

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